Is Factory Farmed meat bad for you?
April 1, 2005 1:27 AM   Subscribe

I'm interested to know if there are any solid reasons or evidence whether decent cuts of factory farmed meat can affect your health.

I am concerned about animal welfare and buy free range organic when I can. However, I don't have much cash and having been veggie for 12 years feel much better eating meat.
posted by lunkfish to Health & Fitness (13 answers total)
Not a useful answer, but can pretend to be one until something better comes along: In wake of various mad cow investigations, it became clear that some meat industry regulations, put in place to safeguard consumer health, are unenforced and routinely ignored at some (many?) facilities. So at the very least there is the risk that you may be buying from a facility that is cutting those health reg corners, and almost by definition, ignoring health regulations presumably has some potential to affect your health. But I guess that's more of a risk of there being a risk.

I think odds are firmly on your diet making a much bigger difference to health than where the food comes from. (Ouch. Those are just screaming to be Famous Last Words :-))
posted by -harlequin- at 3:45 AM on April 1, 2005

Just a few short points, and I hope others will elaborate:

-Factory farmed animals are given food that often includes antibiotics; this has been linked to human antibiotic resistance. Also, some types of feed include ground up parts of other animals, which is where mad cow comes from (I don't know how widespread that is anymore though).

-Eating meat is a significant health risk: colon cancer, heart disease, high cholesterol, etc. Other than protein and iron (which are easily available from other sources) what nutritional content does it really have?

-If you aren't feeling healthy being vegetarian, it's more than likely because you're not eating properly.

I think there are several other reasons why you shouldn't eat meat, above and beyond risks to your personal health.

Hope this helps!
posted by elisabeth r at 5:12 AM on April 1, 2005

This book is pretty well-documented and has some information about the antibiotics, &c.

The cattle are so pumped with antibiotics because they are so sick, they'd die before they even get to slaughter. "Down" or "Downer" cattle.

Surprisingly, the Meat Industry is one of the few that isn't directly regulated by the Gov't.; food recalls are ALWAYS voluntary, they cannot be forced to recall something if they don't want to. Think risk-to-profit ratio.

Also, and this is just a point of interest, not necessarily a direct health concern, but there is oftentimes feces on/in the meat. I'm not being trollish, it's just a fact.

Schlosser started by just writing a few articles for Rolling Stone magazine, and then realized there was much more to write about, so he did ~5 years worth of research and then wrote the book.

I highly suggest it.
posted by exlotuseater at 5:33 AM on April 1, 2005

You can still eat the organic free-range meats and save money - just be creative about it. For instance, I tend to buy the split breast of chicken, bone in, and either debone the breast at home and freeze it, or poach the whole breast and then end up with great chicken stock and cooked chicken that I can then use for enchiladas, salads, wraps, etc. It's much cheaper than buying boneless. You can get a few meals out of every meat purchase with some cooking skills. Similarly, you can stretch beef and pork with good cooking techniques. You don't really need to eat more than a few ounces of meat a day to reach nutritional guidelines -- other sources of protein (nuts, beans, dairy, whole grains) supplement the meat.

I agree with exlotuseater -- after reading Fast Food Nation 3 years ago, I have been utterly unwilling to eat meat not raised under responsible conditions.
posted by Miko at 6:28 AM on April 1, 2005

It's difficult to demonstrate medically that factory farmed meat specifically affects your personal health. Of course, it's really not always easy to "prove" some common-sense dietary recommendations.

In this interview with Michael Pollan for PBS, he describes industrial beef production and how the cows are manipulated to yield maximum profit. This, for me, provides several common-sense health reasons to avoid eating meat produced this way. There are similar problems with the production of chickens, in particular.

As a former vegetarian, I imagine you would be comfortable with a much smaller amount of meat than someone who was raised on meat as main course. One way to handle the cost problem of organically/sustainably produced meat is to use it as an ingredient in fairly small amounts with veggies and starches.
posted by desuetude at 6:28 AM on April 1, 2005

Until the AMA comes out against meat because of the antibiotics, I won't put much faith in the scaremongers. However, the AMA has warned about the risks that elisabeth lists.

As in all things, moderation is the key.
posted by mischief at 6:31 AM on April 1, 2005

Well I'm working out now, and find that I crave meat and fish...and fish is full of mercury. You can't win...

Cooking casseroles etc could be a good one.
posted by lunkfish at 6:38 AM on April 1, 2005

This book also contains a lot of interesting facts about meat production. It also contains a lot of info about farming practices in general. I found the author to be biased towards a vegitarian/macrobiotic diet but despite the bias I enjoyed reading it and found it to be informative and well referenced.
posted by LunaticFringe at 8:17 AM on April 1, 2005

I've recently started eating meat again after ~4 years strict vegetarian, 2 years with sushi ... I went all the way when I decided to do it, though, and started with beef stew.
Fortunately, being in Seattle, I have a lot of options for getting organic free-range hormone-free steroid-free etc etc. meat, and that is all I will eat. I've forced my formerly gross-meat-eating companion to meet me halfway in that, to stop eating non-organic meat, and he has (I think) liked having a reason to change. (I think he still goes to McDonalds when I'm not around, though.)
He often refers to the higher prices of the good meat as partly donation - we like being able to support local businesses, since we usually get the meat at Farmers' Markets; we like supporting businesses that are environmentally and socially conscious and active. If you think of it that way, it's not so bad that it's a few dollars more.
posted by librarina at 10:16 AM on April 1, 2005

There isn't really much evidence that factory farmed meat is worse for you than free range or whatever. There are, of course, other issues such as environmental and animal cruelty, but as far as health most of the benefits are based on personal belief and not hard science.
posted by electroboy at 11:01 AM on April 1, 2005

Thanks for the viewpoints. England is quite expensive for food anyway, and organic meat can push it up a fair bit.

But at least the normal stuff won't kill me...
posted by lunkfish at 12:00 PM on April 1, 2005

Loads of antibiotic has a rather shocking effect on the size of an animal (it makes them bigger and meatier). This is why the antibiotics are used in factory farms. I challenge anyone to prove that they're used because "cows would die before maturity if they didn't get antibiotics."
posted by rxrfrx at 7:30 PM on April 1, 2005

Quotes re antibiotics from Michael Pollan's fascinating New York Times magazine article, that are rather at odds with rfrxrx's assertion:

"First stop was a hopper filled with Rumensin, a powerful antibiotic that No. 534 will consume with his feed every day for the rest of his life. Calves have no need of regular medication while on grass, but as soon as they're placed in the backgrounding pen, they're apt to get sick. Why? The stress of weaning is a factor, but the main culprit is the feed. The shift to a 'hot ration' of grain can so disturb the cow's digestive process -- its rumen, in particular -- that it can kill the animal if not managed carefully and accompanied by antibiotics.
Cows rarely live on feedlot diets for more than six months, which might be about as much as their digestive systems can tolerate. 'I don't know how long you could feed this ration before you'd see problems,' Metzen said; another vet said that a sustained feedlot diet would eventually 'blow out their livers' and kill them. As the acids eat away at the rumen wall, bacteria enter the bloodstream and collect in the liver. More than 13 percent of feedlot cattle are found at slaughter to have abscessed livers.
What keeps a feedlot animal healthy -- or healthy enough -- are antibiotics. Rumensin inhibits gas production in the rumen, helping to prevent bloat; tylosin reduces the incidence of liver infection. Most of the antibiotics sold in America end up in animal feed -- a practice that, it is now generally acknowledged, leads directly to the evolution of new antibiotic-resistant 'superbugs.'
I asked Metzen what would happen if antibiotics were banned from cattle feed. 'We just couldn't feed them as hard,' he said. 'Or we'd have a higher death loss.'

There's also a bunch, somewhat less quotable, about antibiotics making it possible to crowd cattle nearby one another, where they're less able to walk around burning up their food and staying skinny. Without antibiotics, crowding is asking for disease.
posted by Aknaton at 9:33 PM on April 1, 2005

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